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Rock Band Preview

I was lucky enough to be invited up to MTV the other day to take a look at the upcoming Rock Band. First of all, that building is really something. The lobby has a big waterfall and they actually had someone playing piano. I couldn't help but wonder when Sarrel Group is going to hire a pianist to play in the lobby during lunch time. Second of all, the room they showed me the game in was like a home theater lab and was very cool. Big huge projection screen TV and a massive sound system. Add that to an inside look at one of the most anticipated games of the year and what could be bad?

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To cut to the chase, I loved it. I had a great time playing the game. So much fun. It really tapped the closet musician in me. Much more than Guitar Hero, which is a hell of a lot of fun too, but Rock Band gives you more variety. If I felt like playing guitar I could. If I wanted to sing I could. Or I could play drums. Or not play drums very well as it would turn out. I wish there were more songs in the game, but overall I totally have to recommend Rock Band for people who want to play music games.

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My love affair with Harmonix began back in the day of Frequency and Amplitude. At one point I reviewed Amplitude as one of the most innovative games to come out on PS2. Gameplay has remained essentially the same and I love it. This is apparently the culmination of everything that Harmonix has been working towards over the years.

The hook here is that you can play bass, guitar, drums, or sing. There is a real group experience. People can form their own band and then play together either in one place or online. The cool thing is that how well each of you play affects the overall score and the band's success. If someone screws up the others can bail them out with "overdrive" which is similar to GH's "star power". Guitar and bass are the same. Drums was really hard for me. After screwing up over and over again I developed the theory that I can no longer move my arms to push buttons as part of a game - I can only move my fingers to push buttons in a game. Vocals kicked ass. I have always wanted to scream Mississippi Queen (you know what I mean) while pretending I'm Leslie West.

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One of the things they've done is try to build the experience of an actual performance. The HUD (or track down which the notes float) has been minimized. Where GH seemed cartoony, Rock Band has put the emphasis on being realistic. They did mocap with a bunch of bands and a crowd. It doesn't sound like much because the real core of the game is still the same, but it does make it feel a little more real.

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They're going to sell this as a bundle with the instruments for $169 and just the game separately for $59.99. Guitars from previous games may or may not work with Rock Band - official party line is that the game will work with any Xbox or PS3 "standard" controller. The PS3 version will ship with a wireless guitar. The Xbox 360 version includes a USB hub so that all the guitars, drums, microphone, etc can be connected at once.

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World Tour mode is where it all really shines. This is the career mode. Create a band and a bunch of musicians and then hit the road. Creating musicians is very detailed with many more options for customization that GH. You pick your character's name, hometown, attitude (which affects how he/she moves on the stage), and physique (height, weight, facial features, hair, skin). I think I heard someone say that you can design a t-shirt in the game and then get it made in real life. Tattoos (and stickers for guitars) are almost completely customizable. You can pick one or make one, resize it, move it, and place it anywhere.

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There will be a full review coming. I'm not allowed to talk about the songs in any detail. But I love this game. And I'm usually the guy who writes bad previews because he isn't impressed. I can't wait until Rock Band comes out.

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